BUSINESS AS USUAL
How India’s growth story continues to be driven by private enterprise
This year, India marked 20 years of economic reforms. It is the perfect time to pay tribute to Indian entrepreneurship which has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the many rumours about its imminent death, in the face of foreign competition in 1991, were greatly exaggerated. India: The Spirit of Enterprise is a wonderfully produced book, and a fitting tribute to the engine of entrepreneurship, and those who have driven it, in the process powering India’s remarkable growth story. That Indian entrepreneurs have succeeded against the odds—unlike in China there has been very little effective delivery by the Government of public goods like roads and power—makes their story even more fascinating.
The only plausible explanation for this is the latent spirit of enterprise in the people of India, which found itself bottled up during two centuries of colonialism and four decades of socialism. A chapter by Tasneem Suhrawardy traces 5,000 years of Indian business from the trading patterns of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the start of trade with Europe with the arrival of the Portuguese to the arts and crafts of the Mughal period right up to the small group of Indian businessmen who began to manufacture under the British.
Journalist Ashok Malik, who has written much of the text in the book, is even somewhat sympathetic to 40 years of Nehru-inspired socialism, pointing out the building of critical institutional infrastructure—including IITS and IIMS— which was central to India being able to make a successful transition to capitalism in 1991.
The rest of the book tells the story of the key industry and services sectors which have been the success stories over the last two decades. More interestingly, it tells the story of individual entrepreneurs in different sectors. Unsurprisingly, the auto and automotive components industry gets top billing. Till date, it remains the most promising example of India’s unfulfilled potential as a manufacturing powerhouse. There are some unusual and welcome additions to the usual list of Indian success stories. Apart from IT, pharmaceuticals, telecom and textiles, the book also has fascinating stories on the rise of the hospitality sector (India is home to at least four world-class hotel groups), the media (one of the few countries where print is still booming), and art, which has moved beyond just M.F. Husain. All the chapters have beautiful photographs that accompany the text which is eminently accessible to the general reader.
This is a largely “happy” book, barring the last chapter which highlights the challenges ahead: infrastructure, skills and urbanisation. Entrepreneurs are footloose. If the India story falters, our entrepreneurs will go overseas. The year 2011 has been a good example of that trend. That aside, as T.N. Ninan writes in the foreword, “the future of the world economy in the coming decades will be heavily influenced by what happens in the Indian market, and by how Indian entrepreneurs shape their global ambitions.” This book is an excellent primer for those interested in the subject.
A200 GOLD MOHUR MINTED BY THE MUGHALEMPEROR SHAH JAHAN
( 17TH CENTURY)